by cheri sabraw
One of the images that blackens the literary sky of The Grapes of Wrath occurs before the wandering Joads even reach the “Promised Land” of California.
First, Tom Joad crushes a grasshopper on the dashboard of the truck whose driver has just picked him up. This insect, one of billions to swarm into the Midwest, takes on symbolic meaning. Soon California will be overrun with “Oakies,” migrating like locusts toward work and survival. In Chapter Three, Steinbeck writes of grasshoppers so thick they block out the light of the sun. He was referring to July 26, 1931, when such an event happened in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota.
The siege visited upon the Midwestern farmer was conducted by Uber-vermin, insects whose jaws grew larger as their swarm became a living machine that could chew through a wheat field more efficiently than any man-made combine.
Those of us who do not make our living tilling the soil have no idea how hard it is to produce a natural product or any product at all. When I buy red-leaf lettuce or peaches, and nestle kiwis into my basket alongside organic strawberries and blueberries, never do I consider the farmer who grew them, the insects who invade them in one way or another, and the patience it takes to bring them to market.
And this year too, save for about 75 pounds of assorted leccino, arbequina, maurino, and frantoio olives, our crop again fell victim to the ravages of the fly.
On Monday, my husband and I picked the lucky little olives whose insides are not being turned out by fruit fly larvae feeding on such sweet oil. We hustled as olives must be pressed within 24 hours of harvest.
My husband then drove them to the Central Valley to be pressed.
Trucks lined up at the press in Modesto, California, and the foreman asked, “Where are your olives?”
“Why in a bin in the trunk of my car,” replied the gentleman farmer.
I’m sure good manners and some sympathy kept the pressman from laughing out loud.
This year, our harvest might yield 13 bottles of oil. I do not intend to calculate what each bottle cost us.
My husband asked my sister Cindy, who is producing the label for the bottles of our first harvest, to include this small paragraph on the back of the label:
WARNING: THIS PRODUCT IS NOT FOR SALE. This oil was not “organically grown.” Yes, we used Roundup and some pesticides to kill weeds and some of the olive fruit flies so that we could actually make the oil. While this product is not a GMO, we would have done so if we knew how. Consume at your own risk. If you are among the very happy few to have been given a bottle of this oil, it is because we thought enough of you that we were willing to share the fruits of our labor. Please enjoy in peace and harmony and among family and friends, this splendid, mild blend!
There’s always next year. We have 60 trees. Each tree should produce a gallon of oil.